Mayor Livingstone: $50 to Drive an SUV into Central London

ken_livingstone.jpgLondon Mayor Ken Livingstone said yesterday that he wants to introduce an emissions-based congestion charging fee in an attempt to reduce his city’s carbon dioxide output and to encourage cleaner transportation. The mayor’s proposal is to charge the heaviest polluting vehicles emitting 225 grams of CO2 per kilometer, a £25 fee to drive into London’s Central Business District. At today’s exchange rate that is the equivalent of $47.50 in US dollars. Livingstone said:

Most vehicles that will be charged £25 are high priced models. Those who buy them can afford to choose from pretty much the whole of the mainstream car market but have chosen to buy one of the most polluting vehicles. By making these changes to the congestion charging scheme we are encouraging people to take into account the impact of their choice of new car on the environment and the planet.

Also under the Mayor’s proposal, owners of the least polluting vehicles, like the microscopic G-Wiz electric car, would not be charged any fee for driving into the Congestion Zone. And in further blow to the owners of "Chelsea Tractors," known as SUV’s here in New York City, the 90 per cent resident’s discount for car owners living inside the congestion charging zone would be eliminated for owners of big polluting vehicles. Livingstone’s announcement comes three weeks after Richmond Council, south west London, became the first local authority in the country to announce plans for emissions-based residents’ parking charges.

An how about this quote from Geoff Pope, the Liberal Democrat chairman of the London Assembly Transport Committee. What would you give to hear a New York City elected official say something like this?

Urgent action is needed to tackle the growing number of Chelsea tractors (SUV’s) coming into central London. They are damaging and unnecessary vehicles in a densely urbanised, twenty-first century city.


  • I saw a wide-ranging presentation by Prof. Peter Newman last week. He is a scholar of sustainability and transportation and has been involved for years in municipal politics in Australia — I believe most recently as sustainability commissioner for Sydney. It was painfully striking how far behind the rest of the developed world we are in the discourse and practice regarding liveable, environmentally sustainable cities.

  • Why do the least-polluting vehicles get off the hook? Is it a congestion charge or a pollution charge?

    I can see scaling the charge based on vehicle size — but to make it compeletly free for the “least polluting” vehicles subverts the purpose.

  • Jez

    Yes, it’s called a Congestion Charge, but CO2 emissions are an even bigger problem that can be addressed by this and other regulatory approaches.

    In point of fact, the CO2 is not strictly classified as a pollutant, but an emission. One of the regrettable aspects of the Congestion Charge is that heavily polluting powered two-wheelers have been encouraged (through exemption from the charge). These emit less CO2, but – surprising but true – emit orders of magnitude more harmful pollutants (particulates, NO2, SO2 etc.) per mile.

    Ideally, the Congestion Charge would target congestion, CO2 emissions, and air pollution – leaving only public transport, walking and pedal cycling exempt. Still, the Mayor’s announcement is a step in the right direction.

  • Lane Wyden

    good point steveo. let us not forget the space pollution aspect. sure there is a “carbon footprint” to driving, but no matter what the fuel, there is a “footprint footprint”. hybrids are only half cool because they still crowd out greener, more spatially efficient modes.

  • JK

    It’s too bad that Livingstone wants to reduce the fee on LEV/ZEV vehicles instead of just increasing it on big vehicles. Locally, about a quarter of a motor vehicles externality costs are air pollution, congestion a bit more. So, under Livingstone’s plan, could Arnold Schwartzengger drive around for free in his hydrogen Hummer?

    Hopefully this doesn’t boost the case for a free ride for low polluters in NYC area tolls/HOV lanes.

  • AD

    This demonstrates that once you have price regulations in place it is easy to tweak them toward this or that end.

  • jk

    Incidentally, folks may want to check out the link below to Brian Ketcham’s SUMMARY OF NEW YORK CITY EXTERNALITY COSTS, ESTIMATED FOR 2000

  • The free ride for low polluters is already policy for some HOV lanes around New York and in New Jersey. The Pataki plan at least provides for periodic review in case uptake of hybrids is rapid enough that it begins to cause congestion. It also has a MPG standard that excludes stuff like hybrid SUVs. In NJ, no such luck – you get to use the HOV lanes in your hybrid Ford SUV even if it gets less mileage than the diesel sedan stuck in traffic in the standard lanes.

  • That congestion reduction isn’t all about CO2 and that this should probably be about higher fees for the worst offenders than lower fees for the less offensive – those are important points.

    Still – wow! What a difference it would make if New York’s officials were talking about these issues in this manner. Let’s get charging in place first, then we can build on that, huh?

  • Also, how perfect is the term “Chelsea Tractors?” It’s just wonderful. I think from now on I’ll start referring to SUVs as Connecticut Trucks or something…

  • mixalittle

    Adam — how ’bout “Jersey Barriers”?

  • Sean

    Count me in steveo’s camp.

    Mixing congestion pricing with pollution control threatens the argument for the former.

    HOV lanes might be more susceptible to a hybrid model (pun intended) if they take into consideration both mileage and occupancy. For instance, if you set the HOV lane to 40 mpg per person, you would be able to use it solo with a high MPG car, with two people in any moderately efficient car or light truck, and with three or more people in all but the most egregious offenders.

    I don’t think you can take occupancy into consideration with congestion fees. And, sorry, a single person in a Prius traveling for free is not good urban policy.

  • ddartley

    I say stick with “Chelsea Tractors,” even here in the U.S.: it would be a nice switcharoo to suggest European-ness about SUV owners, many of whom are right-wing Europe-bashers.

    Yep, it’s also their mass, not just their emissions, that causes problems. For example, striped crosswalks are safety devices. When you see one gradually fade to invisibility over time, it’s because of the mass of the vehicles passing over it. Your tax dollars getting wasted by the weight of Chelsea Tractors and other oversized nuisances.

  • JK

    Per Orcutt’s point on the free riding LEV/ZEV in NJ this is exactly why this London example may have a perverse effect here. During the battle over the congestion relief zone we can be sure there will be heavy pressure to get exemptions for hybrids/LEV/ZEV, and since “Lessons from London” has been our mantra for a long time…

  • JK

    Does Livingstone still have the authority to impose whatever pricing he wants, or is there a legislative body that has to vote approval?

  • GP

    London a “twenty-first century city”, don’t make me laugh!

    I live in London, and the only reason to live in London is to get paid enough to get out of London in the summer and go somewhere a little bit less dirty and crowded.

    London’s infrastructure is wholly inadequate and can’t accommodate the number of people that reside in it. London is full of little old houses that should have been replaced with modern apartment buildings long ago, the same goes for its transport infrastructure, the road system plainly doesn’t work and should have been updated 30 years ago, the underground system, it is dirty, inefficient, uncomfortable, and there’s nothing 21st century about it.

    London has a lot to learn from many of the world’s cities.

  • someguy

    errr.. then why do so many people love living in London? if you want clean and sterile rather than character, there are plenty of overnight boomtowns in China that no doubt are perfectly planned 😉

  • GP

    Why do people love living in London?

    Because of the high salaries, the cosmopolitan atmosphere, and the sheer amount of things available for you to do.

    But trust me, I am not the only person living in London planning to retire somewhere else.

    Don’t delude yourself, London isn’t a modern city, it simply hasn’t got the infrastructure in place to make it so.

    As for the dirt, I have never found diesel dust and rubbish to give a place “character”. A lot of London is a dirt, I have gotten used to the London stench but every time I go away and come back the diesel stench hits me again.


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